In the tumultuous new age of the Middle East, Kurds have risen as strategic players, and this exhibits their increasingly influential position in settling regional conflicts.
The by-product of this new prominence is strong relations with regional powers such as Turkey but also with the European Union, the United States, and Russia.
With Kurds at the center of the battle against Islamic State (IS), both in Iraq and Syria, their role is vital to achieving long-term peace in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the greater Middle East.
Both the US and Russia have worked with Kurds as key actors in battling terrorism. As much as Kurds have grown in strategic standing and received increasing acclaim, they are still stateless.
However, more and more countries are supporting their legitimate rights, and it appears this is something that Russia is also willing to do. Russian President Vladimir Putin, while responding to a Kurdistan 24 reporter, emphasized their “special and very good relationship with the Kurds” who he believes had “a very difficult past.”
When pressed about Kurdish independence by the same reporter, Putin added, “ultimately, the legitimate rights of the Kurds will be ensured, but what will be the form and how it depends on Iraqis and Kurds themselves. We have been and would continue to be in contact with Baghdad and Kurds, but we will not interfere in domestic affairs of Iraq.”
US President-elect, Donald Trump, has also praised the Kurdish role in the fight against IS while acknowledging that wrongs were committed against them. Trump stated that they should be “using and utilizing those people, they have a great heart. They are great fighters, and we should be working with them much more so than we work (now).”
Trump’s appointment of Rex W. Tillerson, ex-CEO of Exxon, as Secretary of State may bode well for the Kurds. It was Tillerson who supported Kurdish rights by insisting on working in Kurdistan in 2011 in spite of opposition from Baghdad and Washington.
Clearly, global powers, as much as their short-term foreign policies center on the sovereignty of Iraq and having normal relations with Baghdad, cannot deny the legal right of the Kurds to self-determination while much smaller nations have been able to secure these rights long ago.
If neighbors such as Turkey that were historically opposed to any notion of Kurdish nationalism, let alone autonomy, are coming to terms with the reality of Kurdish Independence, then little stands in the way of the Kurds.
In a recent interview, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani underscored that the question of independence has gone from a “red line for Turkey no matter what” to an “opportunity to open this dialogue.”
While Barzani only emphasized that the aim was to get Turkey to “listen,” in reality, Turkey has long acknowledged the end-game, and they have directly or indirectly already supported the foundations of this emerging state.
The deal to export oil through Turkey independently of Baghdad is one such act that boosted the Kurdish bid for statehood.
Barzani believes that the road map for Kurds to secede from Iraq is “a very serious dialogue with Baghdad.” He added, “For argument’s sake if we do declare our independence without consultation with Baghdad or any form of dialogue, our independence won’t be viable.”
The question is not permission from Baghdad, but rather to establish the ground rules for an “amicable divorce.”
Iraq does not have the resources or national will to oppose the Kurds, even if neighbors such as Tehran are against the idea of independence.
The common line has been that Kurdish independence would cause instability in the Middle East, yet the Middle East has never been stable. On the contrary, a Kurdish state will help bring stability to the region. A century after the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided the Middle East, no side can justify the Kurds remaining as the largest nation in the world without a state.
First Published: Kurdistan 24